As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. John 15:9-17
This weekend we are in our fifth of six weeks exploring the different ways God calls us to love. There is friendship love philia, romantic love eros, family or nation love storge, and sacrificial love agape. There is also the radical love that Jesus calls forth from his followers: love of the stranger and love of the enemy. Our focus will be on agape, the most commonly used word for love in the New Testament and used to describe the love of Jesus and the love that Jesus commanded, and others wrote about for those of us who follow Him. Agape is used over 250 times as a noun or a verb, nearly 5 times as often as the word for friendship love.
I chose this passage from John for a preaching text on agape because of Jesus’ command to ABIDE in this love. This passage is part of a longer piece and follows Jesus’ comparison of their relationship with Him as being like branches being connected to, abiding on, a vine. “I am the Vine, you are the branches.” (John 15:5) Living with Jesus, living in Jesus and Jesus living in us is living in agape love. Living and dwelling and making our home in the love Jesus has offered and gives freely. This passage and the other passage I chose for this weekend from Colossians 3:12-17 describe lives abiding in such love and both are often chosen as texts for weddings. Agape is the type of loving that makes you both strong and vulnerable, it is the most courageous and compassionate of loves, and it is the kind of love that should be the spine of every family, community and congregation. I described it this way once as I concluded one of my wedding sermons:
Side by side, you are pledging to stand with each other in sickness and in health, in joy and in sorrow, for as long as you both shall live. Side by side, you are pledging to run the race and be there to urge each other on wherever the roads may lead. Today, God promises to run that race with you….to bless it and strengthen it and call it sacred. One family, one promise, one joy.
We all know that there is no relationship quite like marriage where love matures and is tested, where loyalty and faithfulness is given and returned, where prayers are fashioned around the ordinary struggles of life, and where two individuals become family. There is no place like this love, when you are wounded or weary and longing to be comforted and held. There is no place like the one you stand in together, wherever that may be, when it is a place filled with laughter, playfulness, faith, love and hope. It is a home where husband and wife share their visions, values and dreams, and that Jesus creates a family which will stand the tests of time.
It is towards such a home that we now send you forth. Go in this love. Go, carrying in your hearts the love we have for you. Go, in the grasp of Jesus, towards a love that will bend, but not break; towards a love that will grow stronger, deeper and wider as days become years; towards a love that will enfold you with the arms of God, and not let go.”
This way of loving is powerful, risky, exciting, and Christ-like. This way of loving allows hope to grow where it otherwise might not and allows trust to develop when it seems improbable to imagine. This way of loving and living and abiding together is perhaps the only way we might stretch to those improbable loves towards the enemy and the stranger. Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.” Make your home in my love, Jesus is saying. There is NO place, NO place, like that home.